The First Biography of Vincent van Gogh

Soon after Van Gogh’s death in the early morning of July 29, 1890, his close friend and fellow artist, Emile Bernard, arrived for the funeral.  Bernard wrote to Albert Aurier saying,

“On Wednesday 30 July, yesterday that is, I arrived in Auvers at about 10 o’clock. His brother, Theodore van ghohg [sic], was there together with Dr. Gachet. Also Tanguy (he had been there since 9 o’clock). Charles Laval accompanied me. The coffin was already closed, I arrived too late to see the man again who had left me four years ago so full of expectations of all kinds…”

He closes his letter with:

“You know how much I loved him and you can imagine how much I wept. You are his critic, so don’t forget him but try and write a few words to tell everyone that his funeral was a crowning finale that was truly worthy of his great spirit and his great talent.”

Bernard also did his part in making sure the name of his friend, Vincent van Gogh, would live on.  He wrote the first published biography about Van Gogh.  The biography appeared in Les Hommes d’Aujourd’hui, (Men of Today) in 1890.  It was about 3 pages long and included a title page with a self-portrait of Van Gogh which Bernard had copied.

Bernard shared how he and Van Gogh met and the first sentence of the biography article sheds light on Bernard’s view of his friend,

It is an error that people sometimes have no confidence in the opinion of friends, about a deceased, for whom do we know better than the ones we love, particularly in art, where all friends are based on comparable endeavors, on similar insights?

Bernard named several of Van Gogh’s paintings in the biography including The Potato-Eaters, The Sower, La Berceuse and many others.  Unknown to Bernard at the time, these paintings would become among Van Gogh’s most famous.  Also named in the biography were artists whom Van Gogh revered as masters including, Delacroix, Monticelli and Millet.

Van Gogh Painting The Potato Eaters Van Gogh Painting The Sower
Van Gogh Painting La Berceuse (Augustine Roulin)

The final sentence of Bernard’s Van Gogh biography speaks to Van Gogh’s relationship to his beloved brother, Theo,

“…his brother who loved him so much, who was so devoted to him, and whose name will forever be linked with his.”

Following the published biography, in 1893, Bernard began to publish large sections of letters Van Gogh had sent to him in the Mercure de France.  He also began to publish letters from Van Gogh to his brother Theo, which Johanna, Theo’s widow made available to him.

Letter Source:
http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/21/etc-Bernard-Aurier.htm

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